Stephen Rotstein, CBA President for the year 2021-2022, meets with The Every Lawyer host Marlisse Silver-Sweeney. They discuss his priority for the year and his upcoming podcast Conversations with the President.
Stephen Rotstein, CBA President for the year 2021-2022, meets with The Every Lawyer host Marlisse Silver-Sweeney. They discuss his priority for the year and his upcoming podcast Conversations with the President. They talk mental health, community involvement, and more.
The first episode of Stephen's series Strengthening our Community will be released on November 18, 2021. Stay tuned!
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Voiceover: This is Conversations with the President, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Stephen Rotstein: Hello. Bonjour. My name is Stephen Rotstein and I’m the president of the Canadian Bar Association. Welcome to the new CBA podcast, Conversations With The President. On this channel we will invite legal experts to discuss some of the priorities I’ve identified for the ‘21-’22 year. Those priorities include a focus on mental health, as well as the importance of community involvement.
I recently chatted with Marlisse Silver Sweeney, host of the CBA podcast The Every Lawyer, about my priorities and some of the guests [unintelligible 00:00:48] hear about during the season of Conversations with the President. My first episode as host will come out in mid-November 2021, so stay tuned.
Now enjoy my discussions with Marlisse.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Welcome to The Every Lawyer, a Canadian Bar Association podcast. I’m your host, Marlisse Silver Sweeney. It’s my favourite day on our podcast, which means it’s time to chat with the newly appointed president of the CBA, Stephen Rotstein. He’s the first public sector lawyer to take on the role. In his day job he’s director for global and domestic affairs at the Ontario Securities Commission. Previously he oversaw all public policy and regulatory matters related to financial planning at FP Canada.
Stephen is also the first president to start his own podcast. That’s right. Conversations with the President will be its own independent show. The first episode will be out later in the fall, and we’ll add a link in the description box of this episode. Perhaps it’s no surprise that one of the themes Stephen is focusing on during his tenure as CBA president is how to help lawyers shape the career that suits them best, even if that means straying from the traditional realm of private practice.
That’s just one thing we’re going to talk about today with Stephen. Thank you so much for being here.
Stephen Rotstein: Thanks for having me.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: So I understand the theme of your podcast this year is going to be strengthening our community, and that community involvement has always been really important to you; you’ve been a member of the CBA since 1998, and previously you’ve served as chair of four villages community health centre. Can you talk to me a bit more about how community involvement has shaped your legal career specifically?
Stephen Rotstein: Sure. Well, you know, I got to thank my parents for being great role models for me. So as I was growing up, my parents were very involved in their community and in, you know, various levels of organizations. And, again, this is not part of their day-to-day job; this is what they did within their community. So they kind of instilled in me the importance in giving back to your community. And, again, you can give back in various different ways.
So kind of early in my legal career, again, I began to get involved in some community groups. You’d mentioned the Four Villages Community Health Centre, which is very near where I live in Toronto, and they were – at the time they were looking for some board members. They were looking for some lawyers, and this is a pretty common theme – that organizations would like some lawyers on their board. And I got involved because, quite honestly, I spent most of my career, and currently am spending most of my career, in financial services. And I’m like, oh, wouldn’t it be great to kind of, you know, expand the horizons and learn a bit about the healthcare field?
And I ended up serving, I’m trying to remember how many years – I think six or seven years – on that board, eventually serving as the chair of that board. And it was a great experience. Both helped me grow professionally as far as my abilities to operate with others on a board. Obviously I learned a lot about the healthcare field.
So I think as a volunteer experience, and again this is something that I’ll be talking about my podcast with speakers on, is, you know, at the end of the day, volunteering kind of benefits both the organization in which you’re volunteering – they were obviously looking for a lawyer, somebody who had, you know, could provide that kind of a legal review of things as far as the board was discussing. But it was really valuable to me. It taught me a lot of invaluable skills that I’ve had for the rest of my life. So that’s just one example of kind of how my volunteerism has kind of shaped me as a lawyer.
But there have been other times. I’ve volunteered for many years at a summer camp, which has nothing to do with the practice of law, but it’s been a great experience for me and really – kind of really kind of reset and refreshed me from the day-to-day stuff that I’m doing.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Well, that’s really interesting. It seems like there’s almost three different skills or values that you get from volunteering. One is actually hard skills, like learning a different field and, you know, different legal aspects in that field. The second is soft skills, it sounds like; you know, interacting with different people, meeting different members of the community. And the third sounds like it’s, you know, just to refresh, recharge, rejuvenate. So that’s – yeah. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
I wanted to ask you now about – so you’re taking on the role of CBA president in quite the tumultuous time. Can you talk to me a bit more about that intersection between community, community involvement, needing your community, and also recovering from the challenges of the pandemic that’s happened these past 18 months and is, you know, still on-going?
Stephen Rotstein: Right. Well, I think the pandemic, if it’s taught us anything, it’s taught us that we need each other. It’s probably one of the toughest things I think most people have to deal with during the pandemic is the social isolation. Whether even if you’re in a relationship or have a family, you still, you know, your access to your extended family, lots of people with their parents or their grandparents, or just extended friends they haven’t had the opportunity to be with.
So, you know, when you look at that and you look at that’s kind of where the pandemic has taken us, you know, you think about kind of where we want to go, where we want to go as an association for our members. And one of the things is, again, that sense of community, rebuilding, that sense of being with your community. And that can be being with your legal community, through the CBA or through a branch, or through a section of the CBA. Or, you know, just being involved, as I mentioned earlier, in your community and getting involved in your community, and one is not exclusive of the other. You know? We all have busy lives, but these are good opportunities to, again, kind of re-engage with people.
And I’ve heard over and over and over again that we miss being with people. I mean, I know I miss being with people so I’ve been saying that, but I hear from other people. So again, this is this is an opportunity. I know these are baby steps and public health restrictions make certain things challenging or not impossible. But it’s just beginning to kind of get back to a greater sense of some of those human interactions.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Absolutely. And how did your sense of community and your involvement in community change over the past 18 months during the pandemic?
Stephen Rotstein: Right. I think a lot has to do – I mean, everybody takes from their own personal experience. And I’m, you know, we all have our own kind of natural way of being – I’m a naturally extroverted person. I like being around people; hopefully people like being around me. [Laughter] So, yeah. I mean, it was a sense of how I interact with the community. And just talking specifically about the CBA and the community that we have, I mean, I was vice president of the CBA board for the past year before I became president this September, and I interacted with my fellow board members, interacted with fellow branches; did that all remotely. And I think that was OK.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Right.
Stephen Rotstein: Like, you know, I think we’re never going back necessarily to a world – a fully in-person world, and there’s a lot of advantages to having virtual experiences and hybrid experiences. But I think, you know, just the importance of connecting, connecting with people, connecting with fellow lawyers, connecting with friends and family by Zoom. You know? I personally scheduled a lot of, you know, calls that weren’t as good as getting together with for dinner or drink, but just as a way to keep connected to people.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Mm-hmm. Right. Yeah. So, changing gears a bit, let’s talk about your background. You’re the first public sector lawyer to become president of the CBA in its 125-year history. Why do you think it’s important for younger lawyers to see you in this role?
Stephen Rotstein: Right. So, I mentioned earlier role models, and my parents were a great role model to me. And I think likewise, and again I don’t want to be – you know, it’s kind of awkward to say you want to be a role model to others. But I think to a certain degree I want lawyers, whether they be public sector lawyers, or I’ve also spent a lot of my career as an in-house lawyer in the non-profit sector. I want younger lawyers to see that those in public service, those in in-house, that there is a pathway as far as being involved with the CBA, being involved as a volunteer with the CBA, potentially being involved in the leadership through the board or through a section executive, so that they can see other people like themselves being involved. I think that’s part of it.
I think the second part of it is, you know, everybody, whether you’re in private practice, whether you’re in a not-for-profit or a profit company, or in government or an agency of government, bring something different to the table. And so I think it’s important for those who are in the public sector, they do bring a unique set of skills. Obviously understanding public policymaking, for example, is one area. And obviously the intersection between government and in the private sector.
So I think there’s a lot of great skills that public sector lawyers can bring to the CBA. And so, you know, I guess I’m just hopeful that, you know, I’m the first but not the last one who will take a strong leadership role in our association.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Right. And one of the goals you’ve articulated is to actually help members of the profession find paths outside of that very traditional notion of private practice, if that’s what they’re looking for.
How – so you mentioned a few things, you know, seeing you in this role. How else can the CBA help in this regard?
Stephen Rotstein: Right. So, that’s a great question because, you know, when I was a young lawyer – I still pretend I’m a young lawyer. Others may have a different impression.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Don’t we all. Don’t we all.
Stephen Rotstein: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But is the CBA began to give me opportunities through both mentorships – I took advantage of the mentorship programs – and also through various resources, career resources and other things, to just talk about what other areas of practice. And, again, being in private practices is an excellent career and obviously a vast majority of our members are in private practice, and that works. That works for a lot of people and they’re highly successful. But there’s a lot of different career paths that, quite honestly, when I was a law student I didn’t even know existed. I spent a lot of my career in the not-for-profit sector. But there was nothing that was really that discussed in law school.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: No. There really isn’t. I didn’t even know that was an option when I was going through law school.
Stephen Rotstein: It is. And it’s actually – it’s been it’s been growing as kind of the complexity of matters that not-for-profit associations need to deal with and a lot of them are bringing lawyers in-house. I used to joke all the time; I said when you hire one lawyer in house, a couple weeks from now you’ll get a second lawyer and a third and a month from now you’ll get a second one. Because they’ll realize there’s all these legal issues that weren’t being addressed –
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Right.
Stephen Rotstein: – and that potentially an organization is vulnerable for them and they need that legal expertise. So, anyhow, back to the general thought about what tools. So, it’s just kind of tools to allow – because, you know, maybe law schools are better now at talking about some alternative or non-traditional career paths, but I think it is important to kind of hear through the CBA just about what alternative career paths are, kind of what tools you’ll need and to be able to be successful. And if I can highlight one thing, I’m the past president of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, which is [a struggle to say it? 00:13:02] – it is a section of the CBA. And one thing that they’ve developed, which has been growing in popularity, and I was one of the earliest individuals in the program, is a certified in-house counsel program, which it leads to a certification jointly between the Rotman School of Management and the CCCA.
And that does really give, especially – it doesn’t have to be young lawyers but, you know, as obviously a lot of young lawyers gravitate to getting a certification like this, it gives them kind of the skills to be able to transition to other areas of law, especially if they started in private practice.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: That sounds like a great program. That’s neat. Thanks for bringing it up; I’m sure our audience will be interested in it at the very least.
Let’s move now to your podcast. So you are going to have your own podcast, and some of your episodes deal with very traditional notions of community involvement. They’re the types of things that I think about when I hear that phrase, like careers built on community service. But then there are some other ones, like, that deal with innovation and emerging communities. Can you tell me a little bit about those episodes and these non-traditional concepts of community involvement?
Stephen Rotstein: Right. So, yeah. And it’s the type of question – that some of these questions that I do want to address on my podcast –
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Of course.
Stephen Rotstein: – is talking to people in areas that we may not normally have considered community involvement. So, you know, I’m not, as I think, you know, we’re in the process of formalizing those people who will be on those podcasts.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Yes. We’re not giving away any guests today. No. Yeah.
Stephen Rotstein: We’re not giving it away. You have to wait. You’ll have to wait. As the episodes drop. But the idea is that they’ll speak about areas. You know? They will kind of expand people’s viewpoints of what community involvement is or what community generally is. So the idea is, through these podcasts, that they will, you know, they’ll hopefully be very entertaining, but they’ll also be educational, like, by expanding people’s viewpoints in this area.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Right. Absolutely. And what podcast episode are you most excited for and why?
Stephen Rotstein: That’s a really tough question. It’s kind of asking someone which of your kids you prefer the most.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: [Laughter] I ask people that. Is that wrong?
Stephen Rotstein: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My parents used to joke. They said do you like fingers on your hand? You need all your fingers. So I’ll just say they all bring something special. There’s a couple of speakers or hosts, I should say, guests, that I’m really looking forward to having, and if we’re able to secure them without giving too much away it will be quite an honour for myself to speak to them. They’re leaders within our legal community and quite honestly leaders within our general Canadian community. So I guess you’ll just have to wait and see who they are, but I am looking forward to those.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Well, it’s a very good preview. Look at your storytelling already. It’s like you’re leaving us wanting more.
Aside from the podcast, what are your other goals this year as president of the CBA?
Stephen Rotstein: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. There’s one thing I definitely wanted to talk about. We talked a lot about community involvement and, as I mentioned, I’ll be talking a lot about that as well in the podcast. But the overarching theme of my presidency is strengthening our community. And one area that our community needs as much support as we can give them is in the area of mental health and wellness.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Hmm.
Stephen Rotstein: I think we all realize how challenging the past 18 months or 20 months have been for the general community, you know? And lots of people put lots of sacrifices, especially our healthcare workers, our front-line workers. But speaking specifically as it relates to the legal community, it’s been very challenging.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Mm-hmm.
Stephen Rotstein: I mean, it’s probably the first thing when I talk to lawyers, and whether they be young lawyers or more seasoned lawyers, they talk about, you know, the balances between their professional responsibilities, which have only gotten more intense over the course of the pandemic with their personal responsibilities. And, you know, I don’t know if I should tell other people’s stories so I can tell my story. But, you know, my kids were, because of Toronto went virtual, my kids were doing remote schooling while I was working, you know, a full-time job, and working a full-time job as a public servant. So, you know, you’re trying to help your kids get through their school day while trying to obviously do your day job. And I know I’m not the only one.
And, you know, the other thing is the issues of both mental health and wellness, especially mental health, has been an issue that has been, you know, has been growing in recognition that this is an issue that we need to talk about, and we need to talk about frankly and really take away the stigma from having open conversations about. So, you know, the pandemic has kind of brought that even more to the forefront.
So, you know, that’s one of the things I want to talk about, is just both mental health and wellness, but specifically as it relates to our members, our CBA members, is just trying to provide them the tools and the resources to help them through what is obviously a challenging time.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Right. OK. And so there’ll be more information about that coming forward. Will that be part of your podcast or is that –
Stephen Rotstein: Well, I’m hoping to have – to talk to some individuals who are leading experts in this area through both a lived experience or through their expertise. So, yeah, I will be talking about mental health and wellness on the podcast.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: Well that sounds like such an important goal and theme of your presidency to take on, particularly in this year and, you know, 2021, as you take on this role in a very tumultuous time that’s constantly changing. So thank you so much. Thank you for chatting with us today all about your goals, your podcast, your career, and best of luck.
Stephen Rotstein: Great. Thank you. And thank you, everybody, for listening in today and hopefully you’ll listen to the podcasts when they drop.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney: What a privilege it is to speak with Stephen about his goals for the Canadian Bar Association this year. I’d love to hear what you think about community involvement, the pandemic and the CBA’s role in it, as well as the other topics we explored in the episode today.
Tweet to us @CBA_news, or you can reach me at my handle @MarlisseSS. We are on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast and Stitcher; wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes and leave us a review if you like what you hear. Stephen’s podcast, Conversations with the President, will start in November.
Thanks for listening.
Stephen Rotstein: Thank you, Marlisse, for the opportunity to discuss the priorities I will focus on during this season of Conversations with the President. The CBA has several great podcasts to explore. Visit the URL and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss anything.